It feels a little strange to be writing a guide to an area that I have only very recently moved to, but I have been visiting Todmorden on a frequent basis for many years now. I can finally call this small West Yorkshire town home, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you.
Tod, as it is affectionately known by locals, is located in the Calder Valley, just a few miles from Hebden Bridge. Manchester, Halifax and Leeds are all just a short train ride away, yet we are surrounded by hills, fields and luscious countryside. My house backs onto the woods and our neighbours tell us that deer frequently visit our gardens. The pace of life here is much slower than when we were based in Manchester, fitting in perfectly with my quest for a slower and more considered life.
That doesn’t mean that this town is sleepy. Far from it, Todmorden buzzes with a vibrant community atmosphere. This is a town for artists, with many writers, painters, musicians and other creative souls calling Tod home. There is a vegetarian café, a community gardening project, a pub that regularly hosts celebrated musicians and more pop-up’s, workshops and events than I can keep up with. It may only be small, but it’s thriving.
The community gardening project is one of my favourite things about my new home. You may have heard of Incredible Edible (there are now schemes all around the globe, from Bristol to New Zealand) but you probably didn’t know that it all began in Todmorden.
Back in 2007, local Pam Warhurst planted vegetables in her garden, knocked down her wall and put up a sign encouraging people to help themselves. She then joined with others in the town to take over the public spaces, planting vegetables in raised beds in the train station car park, growing herbs outside the police station and creating bee-friendly gardens along the canal tow path.
We’ve spent the past few months growing our own vegetable garden, planting everything from beans to a rather ambitious peach tree. When I’m cooking dinner, I head into my garden before walking to the shops. I’ve found myself picking herbs, fruit and salad from the various Incredible Edible sites as I wander around the town, returning home with just what I need, leaving plenty behind for everyone else. It’s like having an endless cooperative supermarket on my doorstep.
Continuing with the theme of food, my favourite place to dine out in Todmorden is Site Pizzeria. Located on the main road through the town, Site boasts a hidden courtyard garden that is the perfect place to sit with a pizza and a cocktail on a hot summer’s night. You’ll almost always find me with a sweet potato, blue cheese and walnut pizza, spiced gin and ginger ale in hand.
Another local favourite haunt is the Golden Lion, the place to go for everything from laid-back acoustic gigs to dropping in on the local UFO society meeting. More of a community space than a pub, this is the place where everyone meets up and you know you can walk in on your own and feel welcome. The Green Party and Labour Party meet here, dogs are welcome and the Thai food served up by the kitchen will tantalise your taste buds – try the homemade tofu and the corn fritters. Round the back of the pub you’ll find a sun-drenched beer garden and Tor Beers, selling an impressive array of craft beer to drink in or take out.
The Magic City
Recently opened but already a favourite spot, The Magic City is a small boutique run by a group of friends, selling vintage garments, interesting books, collectable records and delicious home-baked cookies. I don’t shop as often as I used to, but I find it impossible to leave this place without making a purchase. Everything is really reasonably priced and something always catches my eye.
Close to nature
The main draw for Todmorden, however, is its surroundings. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of waking up to the sight of the hills outside my front window and the woods out the back. There are so many paths to explore, hills to climb and meadows to walk across that it will take me years to discover them all. Whether I’m cycling to Hebden Bridge along the canal, walking on the tops with my dog, or wandering through the woods, I’m spending as much time as possible outdoors.
I’ve discovered two wild swimming spots that have already captured my heart. Gadding’s Dam, the highest beach in Britain, is more than worth the steep climb once you submerge yourself in the water. There’s something quite magical about swimming on top of a hill, surrounded by greenery. Then there’s Lumb Falls, the most idyllic place I’ve ever found to swim. A short drive out of town and through Hebden, followed by a ten minute walk down a steep lane, leads you to a fairy glen with a deep pool, waterfalls, and rocks to jump off if you dare. Keep that one a secret, as its best enjoyed solo on a tranquil morning.
I hope I’ve managed to capture some of the essence of why I moved here. Relocating to the countryside doesn’t have to mean completely transforming your life and giving up the things that you enjoy. I find myself dining out, attending gigs and being surrounded by creativity on a daily basis; yet also enjoy the landscapes and peacefulness of the countryside. It’s the best of both worlds.
Emma Lavelle is a freelance writer, keen photographer and slow-living enthusiast with an endless wanderlust. Based in the north of England, Emma writes about slow travel, a relaxed pace of life and timeless style.